Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis got a good lesson and lasting influence out of a teenage attempt to hornswoggle a new trombone from older brother Wynton. The lesson and the influence came in the form of a recording by trombone great J.J. Johnson.
“Wynton gave me the record and he said, ‘If you learn one of these solos I’ll buy you a new horn.’ And it was, like, late J.J. from, it was called ‘Proof Positive.’ It one of the premier modern jazz trombone records, and there was no possibility. And that’s kind of where Wynton is. He gives you something, he knows it’s not possible you’re going to learn one of these. Man, I used to listen at that record. I learned the whole record, but I didn’t have the facilities, so — he had one ballad on the record. It was ‘My Funny Valentine.’ I said, ‘Okay, I can learn this one.’ But he had a cadenza at the very end. It was just like — ’Yeah, give me a break!’”
He got everything but the cadenza at the end. But that’s when he started dabbling in electronics and computer work.
“What I did was, I had two cassettes, so I edited out that cadenza cassette-to-cassette,” says Marsalis. “I called Wynton, and I said, ‘Alright, here it is.’ I played along with the record, I played the whole thing. And of course the cadenza was missing, and I played the ending, and I just looked at him and he looked at me and he kind of frowned. I said, ‘What about that horn?’
“He walked out, first of all. He didn’t say anything. And I never got the horn.”
Delfeayo had hand-picked trombone for himself back in the sixth grade.
“Man, it doesn’t look like anybody sane would want to play this instrument because of the way it looked, real bizarre, you know,” he said. “And of all the instruments, I said ‘This one’s for me.’”
And he heard lots of good trombonists in New Orleans.
“I heard Freddy Lonzo and Lucien Barbarin and Frog Joseph, and these guys were really playing with power and so much relaxation and melody, and they’re just breezing through these tunes.”
Like Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown Jazz Orchestra. They play Jazz Fest Thursday, May 2.